Editorial Roundup: Illinois

 
 
Updated 9/7/2021 11:24 AM

Chicago Tribune. September 7, 2021.

Editorial: Plea to southern Illinois: Wake up and get the vaccine

 

Walk the halls of Springfield or drink a beer in Carbondale, and you will hear a lot of discussion about the city of Chicago, and not much of it favorable. Downstaters routinely lament the wastefulness of city government, the lousy traffic, the lack of public safety, the crowded conditions.

They have many good points to make, especially when it comes to the city's dangers.

As summer turns to fall, Chicago must come to grips with the awful reality that its 2021 homicide rate is on track to be the highest in a quarter century. Through the end of August, Chicago saw 524 homicides, per police data, some 3% higher than in 2020. That could well mean that more Chicagoans will lose their lives this senseless way than in any other year since 1996. And, as WBEZ reported, 1996 was toward the end of the crime wave sparked by the epidemic of crack cocaine. It was not exactly a model year.

These numbers are unacceptable. This was an especially deadly summer.

But people are also dying needlessly in southern Illinois.

As Rich Miller pointed out in his Capitol Fax last week, more than half the state's COVID-19 deaths in both July and August were from the 96 counties downstate, even though those counties together hold only a little more than a third of the state's population.

Why the disparity? Within those counties, less than 40% of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19.

As a result, the Tribune has said, hospitals in downstate counties have been filling up. In southern Illinois, the Tribune reported last week, just 8% of ICU beds were available midweek and some recent days have seen even worse numbers. At one recent point, we found, only one - one! - ICU bed was available across all 22 hospitals in southern Illinois. According to the recent census, that region has 400,000 residents.

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And 399,999 to 1 is not a comforting ratio.

A Tribune analysis of state data showed that the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region is nearly as high as it was at its fall 2020 peak: almost 41 per 100,000 residents.

Not only is this hospitalization rate now the highest in Illinois, but, incredibly, it also is more than triple the current rate in the city of Chicago.

That's the truth, and it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom of relative calm and quiet to the south of the state and endless furor and mortal danger in the north.

Even aside from the COVID-19 risk, of course, that situation has a knock-on effect in downstate communities: Needed surgeries get postponed, patients get stuck in emergency rooms for weeks, and sick Illinoisans are sent back out the door for want of room. And in small towns, there can be few other places to go.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

God only knows the impact of this crisis should southern Illinois suffer a tornado or something else similar to the kind of national disaster that has brought chaos and death recently to a great swath of America from New Orleans to New York City. Without ample ICU beds, an entire region is rolling the dice on catastrophe not coming its way. And the last few days have suggested the folly of that particular gamble. Especially at a moment when there is a chronic shortage of health care staffers, acutely so in smaller cities and rural regions.

We've noted before that the vaccines are not a perfect solution to this crisis, and we've empathized with those who have hesitated, but vaccination is far and away the best one currently on offer. And, as throughout the rest of the state, the vaccines are readily available in southern Illinois.

So, from a city with many problems but also concern for its fellow Illinoisans, a repetition of this board's recent mantra: Make the personal choice to get vaccinated.

The southern region of our state is known for warmth of the people, the importance placed on community responsibility and family values, quality of life and the vital mission of building strong, safe communities.

That part of the state of Illinois has done a lot of things better than Chicago over the years. So stipulated.

But the vaccination rate is not one of them.

So, some advice today from your friends in Chicago: Get the shots, fellow Illinoisans, and do your part for public safety.

___

Chicago Sun-Times. September 1, 2021.

Editorial: It's not enough to close coal-powered energy plants in Illinois by 2045 - start reducing emissions now

Illinois and the nation must finally must get serious about combating climate change and not bequeathing an environmental disaster to our children and grandchildren.

Another failure for renewable power in Illinois cannot be an option.

Early Wednesday, the state Senate passed a bill for clean energy that could put Illinois among the nation's leaders. But it is missing a critical component: a timeline for reducing emissions from municipal-owned coal plants before they are closed for good along with natural gas-fired plants in 2045.

The House will have a chance to fix that. It should do so, and send the bill back to the Senate, which should concur with the House. The future of the planet depends on lawmakers and others in positions of influence reducing greenhouse gases, which trigger the climate change that already is ravaging the planet.

This is not a time when business interests or concerns about preserving every last job in the fossil fuel industry should take precedence. As a state and nation, we finally must get serious about combating climate change and not bequeathing an environmental disaster to our children and grandchildren. We don't have time for political deals that put other interests first.

That said, there is in fact much to like in the Senate's bill.

It eliminates fossil fuels from the power sector by 2045. That is a huge step toward fixing one of largest existential problems facing Illinois. The downstate Prairie State coal-power plant southeast of St. Louis is the nation's seventh-biggest emitter of carbon pollution.

It nurtures renewable power by requiring that 40% of the state's power come from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, by 2030 and 50% by 2040.

It supports '" at a level no other state will do - jobs and a chance to start companies for people from disadvantaged communities in such clean energy areas as installing electric vehicle charging stations, building rooftop solar projects and retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient.

It includes an energy code communities can adopt that reduces carbon emissions from buildings.

It aims to put 1 million electric vehicles on the roads.

It encourages large vehicles such as buses and delivery trucks to go electric to improve air quality in environmental justice communities.

Unlike laws in some other states that proclaim lofty goals without explaining how to achieve them, the 980-page Senate bill spells out how the state plans to meet its objectives.

If it feels we have been close to a deal on clean energy legislation before, only to see deadlines slip by without action, it's because that is what has happened over the past 31⁄2 years of work, which was started by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. And there are challenges this time as well. The bill must pass with super-majorities in both chambers.

Fortunately, only a quorum of senators and representatives have to be in Springfield to vote. Others can vote remotely, which gives the bill a better chance of getting the elusive 36 votes needed in the Senate and 71 needed in the House despite possible opposition from some downstate Democrats and most Republicans.

But lawmakers must act with due dispatch. Exelon says it will start closing nuclear power plants on Sept. 13 unless legislation is enacted, and the nuclear plants are needed to provide reliable, zero-carbon energy while the state ramps up renewable energy. Because of such constitutional requirements as reading a bill on three separate days, there is little time for delay.

In one of those arcane legislative twists, the Senate used one of its own bills as a vehicle instead of one the House sent over. That suggests the Senate is inviting the House to fix the bill and send it back. If the House does so, the Senate can vote only yes or no, without any new amendments. If the House does send a corrected bill back, it's hard to see the Senate killing it.

On Wednesday, clean energy supporters voiced cautious optimism, while saying outstanding issues must be resolved. The Path to 100 coalition called it 'the strongest clean energy, pro-climate legislation in the country.' The Sierra Club Illinois said it represents 'real progress toward a comprehensive climate and equity bill that delivers the future we want for Illinois and our planet.'

Because the Legislature acted too late to seize a chance to offset the costs of the energy bill, it will raise the average residential monthly electric rates by $3.51 a month. But if the Legislature acts quickly now, it can at least protect most of a $300 million kitty set aside to fund solar rooftop projects, which is being returned to ratepayers at a rate of $1 million a day, starting Wednesday.

We can't say it strongly enough. Fix, and enact, this bill.

___

Champaign News-Gazette. September 5, 2021.

Editorial: Hard to put positive spin on state financial numbers

Illinois' long-term financial woes won't be long term forever.

When is a negative reported as a positive?

In at least one instance, it's when the subject of the state of the State of Illinois' finances comes up.

The budget picture, according to a financial report for the fiscal year ending in June 30, 2020, is bleak. But it would have been even bleaker without billions of dollars in bailouts from the federal government.

'Buoyed by federal COVID pandemic aid, Illinois' cash position improved in fiscal 2020 while pensions and other obligations pushed the state's net position of governmental activities deeper in the hole,' reports the Bond Buyer's Yvette Shields.

The good news about the bad news is that 'the state trimmed $1.1 billion off its general fund deficit ... to negative $6.4 billion at fiscal 2020 year close,' Shields reports.

So instead of spending $7.5 billion more than the state brought in, Illinois only spent $6.4 billion more than it brought in.

Of course, the 2020 fiscal year was an outlier, state tax revenues collapsing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions placed on life are business as usual.

But while the federal aid provided extra cash for state officials to use to supplement another deficit state budget, Illinois' overall financial picture darkened considerably.

What Shields characterized as 'pension and other obligations' continue to grow into an increasingly intolerable and unmanageable burden.

The Bond Buyer reports that Illinois' net financial position 'worsened by $4.7 billion and now stands at $197.8 billion.' That means Illinois needs $197.8 billion to cover future obligations.

That's not just an unfathomable sum for Illinois to handle, it's also very likely the real number is considerably higher.

Of the $197.8 billion, a significant portion comes from pension underfunding that is calculated by government accounting standards. If the standards applied to private-sector pension systems were applied to Illinois' five public pensions, the number would be much higher.

The net cash position number illustrates the failure of Illinois' past and current elected leadership to manage taxpayer dollars in a responsible fashion.

The latest report shows debt numbers heading in the wrong direction.

The net position of $197.8 billion at the end of 2020 represents another in a series of declines.

The Bond Buyer reports Illinois' net position has 'steadily declined over the years.' It jumped from $131.6 billion in fiscal 2016 to $182.6 in fiscal 2017 to $189.1 billion in 2018. Now it's approaching a $200 billion financial hole, and that's a hurdle Illinois appears destined to clear at the end of fiscal year 2021.

Of the 50 states, only New Jersey - net position $201.5 billion - is in a worse financial hole than Illinois.

The big question, of course, is where is this headed and how long will it take?

The powers that be have shown no interest in doing anything other than passing one spending program after another. They must believe that somehow God will provide.

That's a nice thought. But here's another - God helps those who help themselves, and the governor and legislators appear uninterested in doing anything other than raising taxes and then spending even more money than their tax increases generate.

At the same time, they ignore the 'pensions and other obligations that steadily rise.'

Federal bailouts or not, this is a prescription for financial failure on a grand scale. Some people might not want to believe it, but the numbers don't lie.

END

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